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Columnist
Geneva turns to some clutch performers for pressure-packed win
By John Lemon | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 2/25/2011 1:19 AM

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The Geneva girls basketball program has established a tradition like few others, and the Vikings added another most memorable chapter with their 55-53 victory over Cary-Grove Thursday night in the Class 4A Jacobs sectional championship game.

So with all the tradition, it's no surprise you'll find names like 2006 seniors Caty Whitley and Sara Bernhard behind Thursday's game-winning play.

That play came with 4.6 seconds left in the game and the score tied at 53. It was the third straight inbounds play the Vikings ran.

You always hear a sign of a well-coached team is one that executes plays like this out of timeouts. Just getting the ball inbounds can trip up the best of teams under this type of pressure look no further than the turnover Cary-Grove had with 13 seconds to go that gave the Vikings the ball back.

Geneva ran three straight excellent plays. The second would have ended in an Ashley Santos 2-footer for the win if Cary-Grove had not fouled.

How often do you pull your hair out watching your favorite team on TV in these end-of-game situations when they end up launching a 25-foot fadeaway jumper?

Geneva wound up with Katelyn Allen all alone under the basket leaving Cary-Grove no choice but foul.

That is great coaching, great players and great execution basically everything we've come to expect from Geneva the last six years with their 160-23 record and now three straight sectional championships.

They come through under pressure, even in a game like Thursday when they had lost a 14-point lead and all the momentum was on Cary-Grove's side.

"It's tough whenever you have been up by that much and lose the lead, it took a toll on our confidence," senior Kat Yelle said. "We just tried to keep our cool. Katelyn making those free throws, I just had a feeling she was going to make them. I was more concerned with not letting them (Cary) get a 3 off. I just wanted to let them (her teammates) know not to foul on the rebound if Katelyn did miss."

There you go, another heads-up play, but one the Vikings didn't need after Allen made both free throws. The best 3-point shooter on the team, Allen surprisingly only hit 52 percent from the free-throw line during the season. But she was money when it mattered.

Cary-Grove coach Rod Saffert took timeout before Allen went to the line to try to ice her.

During the timeout Allen said she looked over at her fellow seniors there's 8 and became determined to win the game for them. She happened to notice Yelle praying.

"Me and Sammy (Scofield) pray before each game," Yelle said. "In tough situations like this I find myself praying. Even in life I pray whenever it gets tough. I just feel confident whenever I pray to God."

Allen said she was more nervous when the play was called and she knew the ball was coming to her than shooting the free throws.

"My heart was beating so fast," Allen said. "We usually do our other plays, that one is not key, but she (Nolan) called it and I was like "Oh, it's my side.

"We always practice our free throws the same routine every time. I felt like they were going to go in. I don't even remember it anymore. I looked at Ashley (Santos) next to me and she said, 'You can do it.'"

Santos had a big high-five for Allen after she nailed the first free throw.

Sammy Scofield made the pass on all three inbounds plays, the final one named "H.P." in honor of none other than Harry Potter.

"Give Sammy credit, that inbounder needs to be patient and let the play develop," Geneva coach Gina Nolan said.

Which brings us back to 2006, the year Nolan put that inbounds play in, one she had learned in her previous coaching job.

"The name we had for it sounded too much like something else," said Nolan, explaining the Harry Potter name. "It was the day it (Harry Potter) was going to be released or something and they (her players) were all going to go buy it."

That might be all Geneva has in common with Harry Potter. He relies on magic. Geneva's winning formula is all about hard work, smart play, unselfishness, pulling together, overcoming adversity... you name it, they've got it. And boy is it fun to watch.

jlemon@dailyherald.com